Module 3 - How Search Engines Rank Websites (Video)

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SEO Basics Course. Module 3

How Search Engines Rank Websites

OK lets recap!

In Module 1 we looked at SEO Scams and Cons so you can avoid the companies that could cause your website considerable harm.

Module 2 covered personalized search so you don't make the very common mistake made by many website owners and think you have good rankings when you don't!

You're now well prepared to start Search Engine Optimizing your site but in order to do it you'll need to understand the process Search Engines go through when deciding, from the billions of pages on the internet, who should take those magic positions at the top of their lists in the search results.

It all comes down to two factors - relevancy and authority. These are the two pillars of rankings.

Lets see that in action with an imaginary search engine 'GABling' when someone carries out a search like 'cute cuddly kittens'. Whatever a user types into a search engine is known as the Search Term or Search Query. We'll use Search Term in this course just to keep things simple.

GABling is the world's worst search engine. It only knows about 9 webpages - 3 about food, 3 about our feline friends and 3 about cars. All the web pages a search engine knows about are called the 'index' of that search engine.

GABling has an index of 9 pages, most search engines have indexes which contain billions of pages ... but as we said ... GABling is the world's worst search engine.

The very first step you want to achieve is to be in the index. You might have heard people say "Am I in Google's index?" or "Why won't Bing index all the pages on my site". They are not talking about being top of the search results, they are just talking about being in the search results ... somewhere.

To test if your pages are in a search engine's index go to that search engine and type in 'site:' followed by the name of your domain, for example ''. You'll see a list of all the pages that search engine has in their index from your domain.

Not there? There are several methods to resolve this. For Google start by going to Google Webmaster Console. If you don't have a Google Console account there is a link below this video or in the module text to the Google Tutorial on how to set up your Webmaster Console.

Otherwise sign in and on the next page make sure you have the correct website selected. We want to test so its all good. Next look for the Coverage graph. This will probably look pretty empty so put the url of your home page in the search box at the top of the page and hit enter

Wait for Google to carry out its test and you will see a page similar to this. Click the request indexing link and then give it a couple of weeks.

You'll hear many people talk about submitting sitemaps but there is actually good reason to avoid this.

Letting Google crawl your site by itself is a good test of how search engine friendly the design is. Something we'll be covering later in this course.

Still not there? Remember search engines don't index everything. For example they don't like copied content, spammy content such as pages which just contain links to other sites, content which is mainly advertisements, or pages that take forever to load.

If your pages are not getting indexed it could be for one of these reasons.

For now lets consider indexed pages and return to our search engine GABling with our search term 'cute cuddly kittens'.

In the first step the search engine will remove all the pages which are not relevant to this search. This is the relevancy test and this course will show you how you can increase the relevancy of your pages.

Next the search engine will ask "who has got the most authority for the search being carried out?" Search engines use hundreds of factors to determine this and we'll see some of these later in the course.

The relevant pages are ordered by authority to provide a list of search results. These are known as the Search Engine Results Pages (or SERPs for short).

But what's this? The first result is for a page about 'lovely small cats' while the page about 'cute cuddly kittens' is third. Surely a page about 'cute cuddly kittens' is more relevant to the search 'cute cuddly kittens' than one about 'lovely small cats'.

Not quite. Search engines use something called Latent Semantic Indexing (or LSI for short) which decides what terms are similar to each other. In our example Gabling decided that 'lovely small cats' is pretty similar in meaning to 'cute cuddly kittens' and as the page about 'lovely small cats' has more authority it ranks higher.

To recap when someone carries out a search, the search engine decides:

First, which webpages have the most relevancy

And Second, From these relevant pages which have the most authority

Real search engines consider billions of pages this way millions of times a day and each time they do it all in a blink of an eye.

So how do you achieve this relevancy and authority? Broadly speaking improving the relevancy of your pages is the role of 'On-Page SEO' work while increasing your authority is more often associated with 'Off-Page SEO' work. These are terms you will hear a lot more so its important to understand what they refer to.

In this course we will begin with On-Page SEO - increasing the relevancy of your pages - because it does not matter how much authority you have, if search engines don't see you as relevant to the search you want to rank for, you won't rank.

This gives us an important SEO principle. It is possible to rank higher than someone who has more authority if you have more relevancy. We'll see how you can take advantage of this to outrank your competitors in this course.

But before we move on we've come across a great deal of jargon in this video so let's recap it.

Search Term - the word or words a user searches for.

The Index - the database of web pages that a search engine knows about

SERPs - the Search Engine Results Pages, what users see after carrying out a search

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) - how search engines understand what words are similar to each other.

On-page SEO - improving the relevancy of a website or page for a particular search term (like 'cute cuddly kittens')

Off-Page SEO - increasing the authority of a web page for a particular search term.

Now your probably beginning to feel like a bit of an expert and you are well on your way but one question that might have entered your mind during this tutorial is. How do I know which keywords or phrases people actually search so I can be relevant to these?

That's in our next module 'Understanding Keywords'.

Has this video highlighted issues with your SEO work or with a website you are working on but you don't know how to resolve them?

There are simply too many ways a website can be built for us to offer a comprehensive how to part to these tutorials however we would recommend the following steps.

Google it! If you know what platform your website is built on (say XCart or Wordpress) just try googling what you need. For example "How to make WordPress urls SEO friendly" to find out how you can make changes to the urls of your WordPress based site.

You'll be surprised how often issues have already been resolved by others and sometimes they have even created plugins so you can make the changes you need to without needing any technical skills.

If this doesn't resolve your issue you probably will need the help of a programmer. In this case see the 'Need Help' link below this video or in the module text for options.

That was module three, how search engines rank websites. Next up Module four, understanding keywords, and, as they always say at the end of these videos, if you like what you saw, remember to subscribe.